A new paper published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies asserts that general aggressive behavior and bullying are not the same thing. While all aggressive behaviors are meant to cause harm, bullying is a repetitive behavior characterized by a distinct imbalance of power.

“It’s important for us to realize this distinction, in part because every aggressive behavior we see is not bullying,” says lead author Jamie Ostrov, a professor and psychologist at the University at Buffalo and one of the country’s leading authorities on aggression, bullying and peer victimization.

“Certainly aggressive behaviors are problematic in their own right and also deserve our attention, but recognizing the differences in the two behaviors means we can begin a discussion about whether we have to do something different with interventions related to general aggression.”

Ostrov, who was a member of an expert panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Education that worked to determine a uniform definition of bullying, will also present the findings from his latest research at the International Society for Research on Aggression world meeting in Paris, France.

“We’re certainly excited to share these results with our colleagues around the world,” says Ostrov. “Our work with the CDC and the Department of Education has had a national focus. Now we can take this work and present it globally.”

According to Ostrov, aggressive behaviors are meant to hurt or harm. Bullying is considered a subtype of aggression; it is a repetitive behavior further characterized by a power imbalance between two parties, such as one child against a group or a bigger child against a smaller child.

The two studies detailed in Ostrov’s paper come out of his research conducted to develop that definition and empirically test whether general aggression is different from bullying behavior.

“That’s the fundamental question guiding this paper,” he says. “The other component here is that we’re focusing on early childhood. There have been researchers who examined similar questions in adolescence, but we wanted to see what happens in children between 3- and 5-years-old.”

“Bullying can be physical, involving hitting, kicking, pinching or taking things away from someone. There is also relational bullying or social exclusion, where kids might say, ‘You can’t be my friend anymore’ or ‘You can’t come to my birthday party’.”

“Victimization is receiving; aggression is displaying; bullying adds the power imbalance and repetition,” says Ostrov.

In both studies — one teacher-reported study involving 85 students and another study that combined teacher reports and behavioral observations by a research staff on 105 students — the researchers found relational aggression was associated with increases in relational victimization in both studies.

The findings suggest that relational aggression, not relational bullying, was associated with increases in victimization.

“We have to keep this distinction in mind — it matters,” he says. “It’s also validating our overall definition of bullying. There is something distinctive about bullying.”

Source: University at Buffalo